On Sept. 28, Joseph Smedley, a sophomore student at Indiana University, was reported missing. On Oct. 2, Smedley’s body was found in Griffy Lake. On Dec. 5, Smedley’s death was ruled a suicide by drowning.
The case of Joseph Smedley has raised a lot of questions and sparked controversy throughout the Indiana University community since he was originally reported missing. Now, with statements against the suicide ruling from his friends and family, even more questions are brought up.
Understanding what is known, and not known, about the case of Joseph Smedley is important. This is not only because the investigation and publicity of the case is relevant to important racial equality and safety conversations on college campuses. It is because Joseph Smedley was a son, a brother, and a friend. He was also a Hoosier. He was a member of our community. He was important to so many people, and he was too young to be lost. Joseph Smedley’s death is a tragedy, and his friends, family, and community deserve the absolute truth. He deserves for his death to be understood in accuracy.
I will do my best to treat this topic with as much respect as it deserves. My goal is not to form anyone’s opinion about what happened to Joseph Smedley and what happened with the way his case was addressed. I only want to help inform the community about what is known and what questions have been raised as a result. I do not have the answers to these questions, but I do think that they are important to to consider.
Here is what we know.
Smedley was reported missing on the Monday of Sept. 28. According to a wishtv article, he was last seen around 11:30 p.m. the day before. His body was not found until that Friday. This is where the controversy begins. Indiana University is no stranger to missing persons cases. With the very public, ongoing investigation of Lauren Spierer's disappearance four years ago and the tragedy of Hannah Wilson’s murder last semester, IU students know that missing persons reports are a big deal. And when something is considered a big deal on a college campus, it is all over social media. That is the primary way our generation communicates about these types of concerns. So, when Joseph Smedley’s missing persons report was not as widely circulated on social media, the conversation about race began. This was the first major question being asked about the treatment of this case: why do reports about a missing black male not get as much attention as reports about a missing white female?
A body was found in Griffy Lake (about a mile from campus) on Friday, Oct. 2. Shortly after, the Indiana Daily Student reported that the body was identified as Joseph Smedley and the cause of death was consistent with drowning. TheIndyChannel.com reported that no foul play was suspected. Once again, The IU community’s reaction to his declared death raised more questions. Why did his death not bring IU campus’s social scene to a halt the same way Hannah Wilson’s did? Why would this young and vibrant man commit suicide?
On Dec. 4, the Monroe county coroner ruled Smedley’s death a suicide by drowning (IDS report). Immediately, there was backlash from the community, struggling to believe that Joseph, who on many accounts was described as joyful and full of love and life, would do this.
His sister, Vivian Brown, has been especially vocal on Facebook. On Dec. 4, her status read, “My brother DID NOT commit suicide! Tell me, how does one drown them self in 3 ft of water !? Don't worry, we will be doing a 2nd autopsy and we WILL find out who did this to him. #JusticeForJoseph.” Since then, she has posted numerous statuses that relay facts about the case that are meant to discredit the suicide ruling. You can see each of these statuses on her page. Some of what the statuses draw attention to is the state he was found in, plans he had made, and his biography on twitter.
She also posted, “If these facts don't add up to suicide to you then help me get answers. $1000 Reward to anyone who has information leading to the conviction of my brother, Joseph's, murderer !! ***Share*** #JusticeForJoseph.” A fundraising page has been created to support the family, titled “Justice for Joseph."
Additionally, an article has been written titled “The Mystery in the Case of Joseph Smedley." This article is being circulated through the Indiana University community via social media. It calls attention to many of the details of the case that are causing distrust in the suicide ruling, specifically regarding his affiliation with Sigma Pi fraternity.
These responses to the suicide ruling create a lot of concern. Why are there so many factual details of the case that do not align with suicide? If this was not a suicide, why did Joseph Smedley die? If this was a murder, why was he killed, and by who? Why would the police close an investigation with a suicide ruling with all of this uncertainty still present in the case?
I hope that the truth is uncovered so that Joseph’s friends and family can find peace with his death. I also hope that the Indiana University community can move forward into a more trusting relationship with authorities as well as becoming a safer place for students. Indiana University has had more than its fair share of tragedy lately. Please keep Joseph and the people who love him in your thoughts and prayers.